2011's Royal Rumble match.
This Sunday, WWE will present the 27th anniversary of the Royal Rumble, which is a widely considered to be the second biggest pay-per-view show of the year. While the card will feature a few heavily hyped championship matches, the Royal Rumble match has the biggest implications attached to it.
Typically occurring in the main event slot, the Royal Rumble match gives 30 Superstars the chance to headline WrestleMania with a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Given the vast number of top talent on the star-studded roster, predicting an eventual victor could be more difficult this time around than in years past.
With surprises always welcome during the Royal Rumble match, this could be one of the most shocking Rumbles in recent history. With that being said, I will attempt to break down and analyze each aspect of the upcoming contest—in addition to predicting who will end up winning.
While reading, be sure to keep the following question in your mind: Who will be the one?
In late December 2013, it was announced that Batista would be returning to WWE on the Jan. 20 edition of Raw. Vignettes hyped "The Animal's" comeback to the company in the weeks leading up to the go-home show for the Royal Rumble.
After nearly four years, Batista made his long-awaited WWE return on Monday night. A man of few words, he made it quite clear that he was back to win the Royal Rumble match and go on to headline WrestleMania 30 for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Obviously, this came as a surprise to almost no one. Batista even stated on his 2009 documentary that he hoped to one day be an undisputed champion, so it makes sense that he would return shortly after the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships were unified at TLC.
However, how fresh is a Randy Orton vs. Batista match in 2014? That feud was done to death in 2008 and 2009, and the matches they contested against each other weren't even all that great, so why rekindle that rivalry?
Batista had his moment in 2005 when he eliminated John Cena in the Rumble and went on to win his first World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21. He can easily contend for the title without having to win the annual Battle Royal.
As a fan of The Animal, I won't be angry if he wins the Rumble on Sunday (or at least not as angry as I was when Cena won last year), but I will be disappointed.
Since November, CM Punk has had a score to settle with The Authority, specifically Triple H. He has had run-ins with The Shield, New Age Outlaws and Kane as of late but has yet to come face-to-face with "The Game."
Following a win over Billy Gunn on this week's Raw, Punk was notified by Kane that he will be entering at No. 1 in the Royal Rumble match on Sunday. Regardless, in Punk's last Rumble appearance in 2011, he entered first and lasted a whopping 35 minutes, longer than any other participant in the match.
Similar to Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit, it is very possible that "The Voice of the Voiceless" could emerge victorious in this year's Rumble despite entering first. Aside from Daniel Bryan, he is the biggest Superstar on the roster today to have never won a Rumble, so this could be his year.
His disdain for authority figures has been well-documented, and it seems that a match with Triple H at WrestleMania 30 is more than likely. However, reigning WWE world heavyweight champion Randy Orton is also technically a part of The Authority (when he isn't arguing with them), so Punk taking on the corporate champion in the main event of 'Mania would make just as much sense.
It has been nearly a year since Punk last wore world title gold around his waist, but it might be only a matter of time before he is back in the title chase.
Since SummerSlam, Daniel Bryan has been on a journey to recapture the WWE Championship he never should have lost in the first place. He briefly held the gold after winning it at September's Night of Champions event, but it wasn't long before the belt was declared vacant.
He has been involved in a feud with The Wyatt Family in recent months, even becoming a member of the bearded clan at one point. He announced on this week's Raw that he will be going one-on-one with Bray Wyatt at the Royal Rumble but didn't make it known whether he will be participating in the Rumble match itself.
His last championship match was at Hell in a Cell, where special guest referee Shawn Michaels betrayed him and cost him the title. This was not the conclusion of Bryan's story—merely a delay of the inevitable.
So, what better way to get him back in the title picture than to have him win the Rumble? He won't be given a title shot otherwise and doesn't have any obvious feuds waiting for him after Sunday's event, so winning the Rumble seems like the only option left for "The Bearded One."
Please try to convince me that Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 30 wouldn't be best for business.
Big E Langston
Big E Langston made his main roster debut at the 2012 Slammy Awards and has been a force to be reckoned with ever since. He broke away from Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee over the summer before winning the Intercontinental Championship in November for his first taste of singles gold on the main roster.
He has emerged victorious more often than not in recent months and is riding a wave of momentum. Who isn't to say that Langston might shock the world on Sunday by winning the Royal Rumble match?
While he may be the reigning Intercontinental champ, but it wouldn't be the first time that a secondary titleholder headlined WrestleMania for the world title. It was at WrestleMania XI that Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan in clean fashion to win his first (and only) WWF Championship.
Langston might not be ready to contend for the prestigious prize just yet, but don't rule out the possibility of him winning. He has stood toe-to-toe with the likes of Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio and CM Punk in the past, so he has proved himself to be a threat to the gold.
Plus, a champion vs. champion match at WrestleMania would more than boost the prestige of the Intercontinental title.
On the final episode of Raw in 2013, Brock Lesnar made his shocking return to WWE. He declared himself the No. 1 contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and put the entire locker room on notice in the process.
At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Lesnar is scheduled to go one-on-one with Big Show. However, if past Rumble matches are any indication, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for Lesnar to pull double duty and participate in the annual Battle Royal later in the night.
It is possible that he might contend for the title anyway at February's Elimination Chamber pay-per-view (which will emanate from Lesnar's hometown of Minneapolis), but it would make more sense for him to win the Rumble first. The Beast Incarnate has a Rumble win already on his long list of accolades, so I don't have much of a desire to see him win it again on Sunday.
Ryback's fall from grace in the last year has been well-documented, so there is no point in recapping it. However, it is depressing to think just how over his character was around this time one year ago.
Heck, he was my odds-on favorite to win the 2013 Royal Rumble match. I strongly believed he would go on to WrestleMania 29 and win the World Heavyweight Championship, but it unfortunately wasn't meant to be.
It is almost comical to think he could emerge victorious in this year's Rumble, but as the old cliche goes, anything is possible in WWE. While he wasn't on the Jan. 20 Raw, he has donned a new crazy character in recent weeks that has captured the attention of many.
From Brock Lesnar to Batista to Randy Orton ("Feed Me More-ton," anyone?), the possibilities for fresh faces that Ryback can face at WrestleMania 30 are limitless. Whether he is a heel or a face, a huge victory on Sunday could propel him back into the main event picture where he belongs.
With all that being said, there is still hope for Ryback and his possible run with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. A Rumble win for "The Big Guy" is unlikely, sure, but as a fan of Ryback, I would welcome it as a sign of him finally being utilized correctly.
Since Monday's Raw, there has been plenty of speculation among fans whether Daniel Bryan will be participating in this year's Royal Rumble despite already being involved in another match on the card.
Well, what about Bray Wyatt?
According to F4WOnline.com (h/t Wrestling News Source), rumors have been running rampant for close to a month now that officials are high enough on Wyatt that they believe he is headlining WrestleMania 30 with John Cena. I honestly don't see that match as a likely possibility this year, but hey, crazier things have happened.
Over the last six months, The Wyatt Family has run roughshod on the WWE roster, decimating the likes of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Kane and others. Given Bryan's friendship with Cena, I can see why a match between Cena and Wyatt at 'Mania would make sense.
With Luke Harper and Erik Rowan already in the Rumble match, they can do most of the work for Bray prior to him coming in later on in the bout. The odds would be in Bray's favor if he opts to enter, but only time will tell.
One night removed from WrestleMania 29, Dolph Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to win his second World Heavyweight Championship. It was a monumental moment and one of the most memorable in recent Raw history.
Well, what happened?
A lackluster face turn and two untimely concussions later, Ziggler finds himself barely scratching to make it as a midcarder at the moment. He is currently out of action but stated in a recent interview with Chris Van Vliet of WOIO-TV (h/t ProWrestling.net) that he is set to be examined by WWE doctors on Sunday to determine if he is healthy enough to compete in the Royal Rumble match.
Similar to Ryback, it is amazing to think how big of a difference one year makes. According to F4WOnline.com (h/t WrestlingInc.com), reports circulated last year that Ziggler could potentially win the Rumble, and yet he isn't even set to compete in the annual Battle Royal this time around.
After months and months of losing, how amazing would it be for him to return to the ring, win the Rumble and re-establish himself as a threat to the world title? No one would see it coming.
Speaking out against Randy Orton last summer reportedly caused Ziggler's demise, according to F4WOnline.com (h/t WrestlingInc.com). That would make him emerging victorious in the 2014 Royal Rumble and going on to headline WrestleMania 30 with "The Viper" unprecedented.
It has been more than a year since The Shield initially arrived on the WWE scene, and they are still as awesome as they have ever been. However, there have been signs of cracks in the group for a few months now, and it is only a matter of time before they go their separate ways.
Without a doubt, the breakout star of The Shield will be Roman Reigns. He has the look, stature and charisma that Vince McMahon loves, and I could seem him holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at some point in the next few years.
What about as soon as WrestleMania 30?
According to The Wrestling Observer (h/t Wrestle Zone), there have been talks of having Reigns face Triple H at 'Mania this year. Even if that were to happen, it wouldn't necessarily mean that he would win the Royal Rumble match, but it is a possibility.
While the members of The Shield have appeared to be on the same page since the start of 2014, one can only assume that their breakup will be coming sooner rather than later. One scenario could see Reigns tossing out both Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins to win the Rumble match on Sunday, similar to how Batista broke away from Evolution in 2005.
Bad News Barrett
Wade Barrett mysteriously disappeared from WWE TV following last August's SummerSlam event before resurfacing in early December. Repackaged under the name Bad News Barrett, the former three-time Intercontinental champion has been the bearer of bad news to the WWE Universe since then.
Some may find the gimmick to be entertaining, but I believe that it is a complete waste of his talents. Sure, it may be garnering him heat, but what does it matter when he isn't even wrestling anymore?
Barrett proclaimed himself a participant in the 2014 Royal Rumble match on the Jan. 15 edition of WWE Main Event. Although he has seen been removed from the official list of competitors on WWE.com, I wouldn't doubt that he will appear anyway.
He has gotten on the nerves of a number of WWE Superstars in the last two months, so it is only logical to assume that he isn't very well-liked in the locker room these days (in kayfabe, of course). That being said, don't expect to see him last very long if does participate, as every competitor will be looking to eliminate him as soon as possible.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts
The Royal Rumble match is known for its surprises every year, which is what makes it one of the most exciting and unpredictable events of the year. This year's installment will prove to be no different, as plenty of familiar faces have been rumored to be appear in the matchup.
Among those that fans wish to see participate in the annual Battle Royal is none other than Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
For the better part of the last year, he has been campaigning to be a part of this year's Royal Rumble match. He has overcome obstacle after obstacle in recent years and deserves one final in-ring appearance before his days as a wrestler are done.
Fans were given hope when he resurfaced on WWE TV at Old School Raw earlier this month, coming out at the end of the show to celebrate with CM Punk and The New Age Outlaws. He didn't deliver his patented DDT to Dean Ambrose, so it is possible that he was saving it for a Rumble appearance.
With a potential WWE Hall of Fame induction looming, participating in the Rumble match would be timely for Roberts and would make for a very cool moment.
Prior to last year's Royal Rumble event, a tournament was held at the annual Rumble Fan Fest to determine which lucky NXT rookie would be named an entrant in the annual Battle Royal. It was a cool concept to debut an unfamiliar face on WWE TV and in such grandiose fashion at the Rumble.
In the end, Bo Dallas defeated Leo Kruger in the finals of the tournament to earn his place in the 2013 Royal Rumble match. He went on to enter at No. 16, lasted approximately 21 minutes (longer than most of the other participants) and even eliminated then-Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett.
Dallas made his Raw debut the next night and shockingly defeated Barrett in one-on-one competition. The feud was dropped shortly thereafter, though, and Dallas hasn't been seen on WWE TV since.
Although Dallas is the current reigning NXT champion and one of the most hated heels in WWE's developmental system, his call-up to the main roster was deemed a failure. That could be why the tournament was not brought back this year.
If any NXT prospect participates in this year's Rumble, it should be Corey Graves. He has played both an excellent face and heel in NXT and was written out of storylines for some strange reason a number of months ago.
I would like to think that it was because he is ready to be brought up to the main roster, but who knows? He hails from Pittsburgh, so competing in the Rumble in his hometown would be a fitting way of debuting him on WWE TV.
For the last two years, I have given this spot to The Undertaker, but I decided to switch it up this year and give it to Triple H instead. This is only because there is a better chance that we will see HHH in the Royal Rumble match than 'Taker.
Triple H has been the central focus of WWE programming since SummerSlam, where he shockingly turned heel and formed The Authority. He has had issues with Daniel Bryan, Big Show, CM Punk and even Randy Orton since then.
While I don't at all think another HHH vs. Orton match at WrestleMania is possible, much less necessary, I could see it happening. Let's face it: The Game is the most hated heel in WWE right now, yet he isn't holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. That's an issue.
Triple H hasn't participated in a match since the June 10 edition of Raw where he (almost) faced Curtis Axel. Of course, I don't foresee him participating in the Rumble, but his music could go off at some point during the match to signal him being an entrant, only for it to be used as a distraction for Bryan or Punk's elimination.
Sheamus wins the 2012 Royal Rumble.
Since 2011, I have had hope in my heart that Christian would make his return in the Royal Rumble match (he has been injured every winter since 2010), but every year I was left disappointed. So, I decided to give this spot to Sheamus this year instead.
Despite suffering an injury during the All-Stars Money in the Bank ladder match last July, Sheamus continued to compete for a few more weeks before being sidelined indefinitely in early August. He has been rehabbing the injury since then and has yet to resurface on WWE TV.
There has been no timetable for his return to action, but past reports from F4WOnline.com (h/t SE Scoops) have indicated that he could be cleared to compete for Sunday's Royal Rumble match. Having already won it before in 2012, he shouldn't win it again this year, but a return at some point in the matchup would be a pleasant surprise.
Per PWInsider.com (h/t Wrestle Zone), with talk of Sheamus potentially turning heel to feud with Daniel Bryan going into WrestleMania 30, things could get interesting during the annual Battle Royal.
With more possibilities than ever before, I believe that the 2014 Royal Rumble match has the potential to be something monumental. Since it is one of my top three WWE pay-per-views of the year, my hopes are high that we'll witness something special on Sunday.
Please note that all of my aforementioned Superstars are not only predictions with wishful thinking but my analysis of what to expect during the Royal Rumble. Of course, you can draw your own conclusions as to what might transpire during the bout, so be sure to drop a comment below.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.